Game Design

In Game Calendars Law

In honor of one of my favorite holidays, Cinco de Mayo,  I have decided to get back into my MMO Laws series and talk about one of Raph’s minor laws the in game calendars. This particular law actually saddens me to a great degree as I love the concept of holidays and special calendars in fictional worlds that help really complete teh feel of the world.

The actual law is as follows:

In game calendars
It’s nice to have an in-game calendar. But emotional resonances will never accrue to in-game holidays. The only calendar that really matters is the real world one. Don’t worry about breaking fiction–online games are about social interaction, not about fictional consistency.

Sadly, I believe this particular law to be true. Few games even have tried to do in game calendars. I know Asheron’s Call made a go of it, and every now and then you will see mention of a fictional calendar in worlds, but at the end of the day these are not used within MMOs.  Because of this AC becomes the test case really, we can only look there to figure out how a fictional calendar really relates to the real world.

Asheron’s Call as a Test Case

What we find is that the fictional calendar of AC is almost completely ignored. Yes, you can find out what date it is within the game fairly easily, but that is about the depth of it. There is no special occassion that occurs on a particular day of the week, month or year. The special occassions that do occur coincidentally fall on our real world holidays. So we end up with Yule, an in-game version of All Hallow’s Eve and even Valentine’s Day.

We even get to see seasons as during winter months of the real world year, the world of Norrath is covered in snow. These seasons I find remarkable mainly because within the context of the calendar of the game years span the matter of months that the snow lays on the ground and so we end up with a miniature ice age that no one in the game seems to be alarmed by.

MMO Developer Neglect?

Other games you see almost identical practice of having in game fictional events that oddly correspond with out of game real world events. You can see it occur in every game, though which holidays are chosen to be celebrated often changes per game. We generally end up with a standard of Christmas, Halloween, and weirdly Valentine’s Day (I think it is the timing of it that works well for developers).

We end up with proof that this argument of calendars not meaning much to the player holding true. However, I do find the argument a little cyclical. The argument holds true because developers ignore it, and thus players ignore it. It does make me wonder if perhaps the developers paid more heed to the concepts of the world and fully fleshing out the fiction to include a fictional calendar if the MMO players would follow suit and also pay heed to it.

Player Envolvement with Fictional Calendars

If you look at games that completely ignore calendar you can actually see a slight yearning for this with those in game holidays that the developers do create. People go all out for them quite often, even though granted it is often in a real world manner. They decorate their houses with the decorations that the developers provide and they will also run around town spreading words of a happy yule (I was very quick to notice the lack of Merry Christmas).

It is true that there will always be players who refuse to role play in a role playing game regardless of how much effort the developers put into creating a world that is rife with role play opportunity. However there are just as many players out there, I think, whom would role play if the developers made an effort to make a world to role play with. And I feel that if this effort was made, it would become infectious to the player base at least slightly.

Now, to what degree a calendar could help, I highly doubt. I mean I think it could work with putting twists on new in game holidays. But realistically, there weren’t many players who knew what Harvestgain was in Asheron’s Call outside of a server within the game. I could certainly make an argument that again the developers ignored it in the game, but I think it would be a stretch for people to undertand months and day changes within the game. Especially when they change so rapidly.

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